Nigeria vs. Australia [Women's World Cup of Literature: Second Round]
This match was judged by Meytal Radzinski whose writings you can find at Biblibo and on Twitter @biblibio.
The game looks mismatched from the onset. Nigeria comes with star power—Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is a rising star in the literary world, not only for her powerful stories but also for her blatant politics (in Americanah especially). Australia meanwhile comes with a smaller, slighter team: Hannah Kent managed to comfortably sweep her first round competition, but can this debut author really stand up to the powerful politics of Nigeria’s team?
Adichie is the first to score, quickly and bluntly. Ifemelu is such a bold character, engaging and enticing from the start. In her portions of the story (since the novel is divided into Ifemelu and Obinze sections), Adichie tackles large social issues like race, racial identity, and feminism. It’s the sort of intelligent, honest storytelling you always wish you could find, but most writers shy away from. Not Adichie, who gives a nuanced and thought-provoking subtlety to her storytelling. However Obinze’s story is far less interesting—while Adichie stumbles around the implications of his parallel story, Kent snatches the ball and scores neatly with her own sharply defined Agnes Magnusdottir. Kent makes Agnes a complex, confusing and utterly entrancing character in about half the words spent on Obinze. 1-1.
Now the dynamics of the game have shifted somewhat. Kent employs use of both present and past tense in her storytelling (a personal pet peeve), yet the interplay between the two is practically flawless. Kent’s control of the ball is instantly recognized as better, as she manages to pull off character passes Adichie totally fumbles. The adjustment from Ifemelu to Obinze and back starts to feel tiresomely pointless and clumsy. Meanwhile the character shifts (accompanied by the tense change from Agnes’ narration to anyone else’s) flow comfortably. 2-1 Australia.
Adichie reclaims the ball quickly and slams another point with her hard-hitting commentary on being black in the U.S. and more importantly, being foreign in the U.S. The cultural impact rattles the goalposts. Adichie’s brilliant writing makes the fans tremble. It’s a book for the ages. 2-2.
But as the books near their end, it’s clear that one team can play to all its strengths and the other can’t quite. Despite the overwhelming importance and political strength of Americanah (and its lasting power), it fizzles out at the end into a very different sort of novel. It lacks the stamina of the quieter Burial Rites, which plays until the very end and scores a neat goal moments before the game ends. Burial Rites is ultimately the better novel, with a more controlled narrative and a truly inspiring elevation of a character mostly lost to history. The humanity of Burial Rites makes it a powerfully emotional read, while its writing is “contained” in the very best way. Americanah is big—big ideas, big writing, big stories—but it can’t quite control all of its different threads as nicely.
Well, that was a bit of an upset. Much like Australia knocking out Brazil in the actual Women’s World Cup . . . Hmm. Maybe a conspiracy is at work for the Aussies. Anyway, Hannah Kent marches on solidly, although given the goal differentials for Germany (+7) and Canada (+4), Burial Rites will be playing in the quarterfinals. (As will Dark Heart of the Night. The final two matches—tomorrow’s and Saturday’s—will determine which two books get byes and who gets ranked where.)
Speaking of future match-ups, tomorrow features Costa Rica’s Assault on Paradise by Tatiana Lobo versus Spain’s The Happy City by Elvira Navarro. Tough one to call . . . .
Tomorrow’s match features Nigeria’s Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie up against Australia’s Burial Rites by Hannah Kent.